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9 HR Tips for Supporting Pronoun Inclusion in the Workplace

A helpful guide to supporting & improving pronoun inclusion

by Aimie Ye

As businesses across the country continue to improve and implement LGBTQIA+ inclusive and gender-inclusive strategies, gender pronouns have become an area of focus. A few years ago, introductions with pronouns or having pronouns in social media profiles were rare — but times have changed and so should we. Because HR plays a key role in understanding the intersection of pronouns, gender identity, productivity, and mental wellbeing in the workplace, here’s a helpful guide to supporting and improving pronoun inclusion. 

What are gender pronouns?

Gender pronouns are words used in place of a proper noun — in most cases, someone’s name. In the workplace, pronouns are used when referring to a person without actually using their name. They are a helpful way to summarize gender identity, and specifically for transgender and gender non-conforming adults, they are a key to social acceptance and validation. 

Example: Do you know where Anna is? She is late for our meeting. 

In this case, “she” is the pronoun. 

What is gender identity?

Gender identity refers specifically to how a person feels about their own identity, which often stems early in life. Gender identity can impact how an individual chooses to express gender through behaviors, personal appearance, and more.

Why do gender pronouns matter?

When a transgender or gender non-conforming (GNC) person is addressed incorrectly or misgendered, it can be a trigger for a wide range of negative emotions, anxiety, embarassment, stigmatization, and challenges. For queer, GNC, non-binary, and transgender people, the most commonly used he/she pronouns may not fit, and using the proper gender pronouns can make a world of a difference in the mental well-being of your team. When HR and businesses support gender affirmation in the workplace, individuals are empowered to validate their identities, improve self-esteem, and continue to build an inclusive culture. Here are a few key stats to keep in mind:

With those statistics in mind, it’s also crucial to understand how the use of proper pronouns can affect individuals in a positive way. For HR,
recent research shows that employees support and seek gender-inclusive practices in their place of work, and that genders outside of man or woman should be respected. Additionally, inclusive practices around gender pronouns are proven to help business outcomes and productivity

Gender Pronouns

The table below is not a list of all pronouns. Pronouns continue to evolve and emerge, so it’s important not to assume someone falls into one of these categories.

Subjective

Objective

Possessive

Reflexive

Example

She

Her

Hers

Herself

She is eating. I ate with her. The food is hers.

He

Him

His

Himself

He is eating. I ate with him. The food is his.

They

Them

Theirs

Themself

They are eating. I ate with them. The food is theirs.

Ze

Hir/Zir

Hirs/Zirs

Hirself/Zirself

Ze is eating. I ate with zir. The food is hirs.

Now that you understand why it’s so important from HR’s perspective to respect and support pronoun inclusion, let’s cover some actionable tips for fostering an inclusive environment for gender identity and pronouns.

9 HR Tips for Pronoun Inclusion at Work

1. Introduce new names with pronouns

Whether you’re bringing on new team members or meeting with clients, make the effort to introduce yourself with your name, title, and pronouns (if you’re comfortable with it). If you lead by example, others will likely follow with their own pronoun introductions, greatly minimizing the potential for misgendering any of your valued team. 

Example: “Hi, My name is Anna. I go by they/them pronouns. How should I refer to you?”

Please note: pronouns should never be required for disclosure, so make it clear that including them is completely voluntary. 

Just as you might become irritated when someone repeatedly gets your name wrong, the same feelings of invalidation are felt when assumptions about pronouns are made. Making this small but mighty change can help build a culture of respect within your organization from day one.

2. Don’t assume an individual’s pronouns

Just because an employee looks or behaves a certain way, does not mean that you can assume which personal pronouns they prefer. Misgendering occurs when you label them with a pronoun that does not align with their gender identity. It is much easier to slip up during verbal communication than over text or email, so be conscious of this while speaking. If you’re meeting someone new and aren’t sure of their gender pronoun yet, opt for gender-neutral pronouns in the meantime. 

3. Address groups with gender-neutral greetings

As a key player in the People department, you’re likely having frequent conversations with multiple people within the organization, if not the entire team. And, chances are you won’t be speaking to groups with uniform gender pronouns either. With that in mind, try to greet the team with gender-neutral terms like:

  • Y’all
  • Everyone
  • Team
  • Folks
  • All of You

Instead of defaulting to the common “you guys” or any other pronoun-specific term, gender-neutral greetings reduce the risk of alienating team members with different gender identities. 

4. Use an HRIS that offers LGBTQ inclusive options to share pronouns & gender identity

We cannot stress how important it is to ensure that internal documentation and HR software gives your employees the options to share pronouns. Furthermore, pronoun options should include more than she and he. Your HRIS should be evolving to ensure that it reflects and represents the values of your organization and employees. Here at GoCo, we’ve continued to build our HR software platform with inclusion and flexibility in mind, and our new DEI features help support that by:

  • Renaming Preferred Pronouns to Pronouns
  • Adding the following pronoun options to the dropdown:
    • Name / Name / Name’s
    • Sie / Hir / Hirs
    • Ze / Zim / Zims
    • Ze / Zir / Zirs
    • Zee / Here / Here’s
    • Ey / Em / Eirs
    • Per / Per / Pers
  • Giving the option to mask legal sex on profile by default (like SSN/DOB)

Internal documentation and HR systems are a unique opportunity to continue demonstrating your business’ support for LGBTQ inclusivity. Empowering employees with additional gender identity options outside of male and female can make a world of a difference and make them feel validated. Additionally, the power to mask legal sex is a powerful affirmation of self that can encourage authenticity within your organization.

If your current HR system, payroll software, or ATS does offer this flexibility, it’s time to make the switch.

5. Display pronouns in your email signature if you’d like

Similar to adding pronouns into your introductions, your email signature is a great spot to include your gender pronouns. This helps clarify how you’d like to be referred to, and shows that you respect others’ gender identities as well. The same goes for your LinkedIn profile, Zoom display name, Slack profile, and more. Again, this is an optional action that can help further support pronoun inclusion in your workplace.


6. Acknowledge your mistakes properly

Even if you know someone’s gender pronouns, there is still the possibility for a slip-up. Mistakes or misgendering happens when addressing someone with the incorrect pronouns. If you’ve made a mistake, make sure to acknowledge your mistake, and take responsibility. Instead of becoming defensive or combative, calmly apologize and make sure to correct yourself with the correct pronouns. If you noticed your mistake after a conversation, it’s important to acknowledge it regardless. Reach out to the individual in private to let them know, but don’t make it a focal point.

7. Provide proper pronouns training

Including pronoun training within your recurring company curriculum can help support inclusion in your organization. Gender pronoun training should cover definitions of pronouns and other vocabulary, why they matter, how to communicate them correctly, as well as strategies for proper usage in the workplace. Make the training mandatory, and keep the presentation in your
HR document management system so that employees can digitally refer to the training at any time, and keep it fresh in their minds.

8. Review your policies and procedures

One of the largest signs of support you can show for pronoun inclusion and gender identity is by taking action and revisiting your existing policies. From the employee handbook to bathroom access policies, take steps to create a culture and space for acceptance and support — and don’t leave room for confusion. We recommend revisiting or creating:

  • Unbiased Hiring Processes
  • Inclusive Dress Codes
  • Anti-Discrimination Policies
  • Bathroom Regulations
  • Misgendering Policies

While most organizations have some form of these policies in place, make sure your policy truly covers the repercussions and disciplinary actions that will be taken if any of these regulations are not followed. Updates should be reflected in your HRIS so that employees are crystal clear on what is expected of them. Protocol for repeated mistakes around misgendering should be developed so that all of your employees are empowered to advocate for themselves in the face of discrimination or improper treatment. 

9. Create a safe space for conversations and questions

As an HR manager, your job is to make sure that employees feel safe and comfortable, whether it’s relating to their sex, gender identity, culture, and more. Make sure your employees know that your door is open for conversations, questions and feedback. Whether it’s clearing up questions about training or proper pronoun usage, or simply listening to an employee’s confidential experiences, HR support helps foster a safe and inclusive workplace where others feel safe sharing.

Because HR is the heart and soul of an organization, it is also so important to utilize best practices around and continuously support pronoun inclusion in the workplace. By using the tips above, employers, HR, and individual employees can create a stronger place of belonging for LGBTQIA+ employees and non-LGBTQIA+ employees. 

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